Parsis love food. We’re always talking about it. At breakfast, we discuss what’s for lunch; at lunch, we discuss what’s for dinner; at dinner, we discuss the next day’s menu. While Mumbai’s many Parsi-Irani restaurants are testaments to our deep love for all things gastronomic, there’s no time of year that showcases our love for food better than the months of November to February. That’s how you know them. I know them as ‘lagan-navjote season’.
A ‘lagan’ is a wedding, while a ‘navjote’ is an initiation ceremony, where young Zoroastrians are formally inducted into the religion. But these milestone functions are usually less about the festivities and more about the food
These functions usually take place in a baug, which is really just a large open space conducive to the set-up of row after row of tables and chairs for al fresco dining. There’s also a stage where the bride/groom/host/whoever (no one really cares) spends most of their time sweating under bright lights with smiles frozen in place waiting to greet the well-wishers—no different from the formalities at any community’s wedding.
But, the one person who has everyone’s attention usually sits way at the back, past the rows of tables, almost shying away from everyone. Her name is Tanaz Godiwalla and she is the undisputed queen of catering as far as Parsi functions go. Before the friends are told, the guest list is made, or even the baug booked, Godiwalla is telephoned and informed of the date. As far as modern day figureheads of the dwindling community goes, few names evoke as much familiarity and flavour as hers.
Considering that, and the fact that she caters an average of 150 ‘lagans’ and ‘navjotes’ in December alone, surprisingly little is known about her. She prefers to remain low-key, to keep to herself. So I got hold of her number, told her I’m so-and-so’s son, (always works in the Parsi community, everyone knows everyone) and got an appointment to meet her.
I remember being nervous on my way up in the elevator. I’ve met her at functions many times. But nothing more than a casual, “Hi, I loved the food”, sort of conversation. This was going to be different. I wasn’t meeting her in a social setting. I had been invited to her home, to her private space to chitchat and get to know the real Tanaz Godiwalla. In our world, that’s the equivalent of meeting Nigella Lawson.
Just as I was about to ring her doorbell, staccato thoughts struck me: Oh god, please don’t let her offer me food. I just had lunch. But if she does, how can I refuse? It’ll look rude. She’s a caterer. She’s THE caterer! Refusing to eat her food, even politely, is like being invited to paint with Picasso and saying no. I pushed my thoughts aside and rang the doorbell. She came to the door, shook my hand and guided me in to a large, airy living room. I sat down on the sofa, and after a cup of tea and some light snacks—which I politely declined—we began to chat.
Tanaz’s parents Freny and Rohinton were the ones who set up Godiwalla Caterers. Her sister and brother were also involved in the business. Her sister married and moved away. After the death of her parents and her brother, Tanaz took charge.
Seated across from me in an armchair, Godiwalla says, “I love what I do and I do it with a lot of passion and happiness. Money always follows when you do something with all your heart. So in a way, I’m blessed to be able to do something that I love.”
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